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The Insider's Connection

African Free School

Maritcha Lyons: Racial Equality Activism and Shaping the NYC Public School System

How did one woman’s lifelong fight for racial equality shape the New York City school system? How might growing up around activism inspire a young person to create change? How many people have heard the name Maritcha Remond Lyons? Maritcha Lyons was Albro and Mary Lyons‘ third child, born into a free black community in Lower Manhattan on May 23, 1848. Maritcha’s parents ran a sailors’ clothing store to cover their work as conductors on the Underground Railroad; the fight for freedom and racial justice underscored Maritcha’s entire childhood. Maritcha was ill a lot as a child, but she was always eager to get an education. Maritcha attended Manhattan’s Colored School #3. In the summer of 1863, 5 days of racial violence ensued. The Draft Riots, ultimately targeting free black New Yorkers, made the Lyons’ home on Vandewater Street one…

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January 13, 2020

Seneca Village: New York’s First Black Property Owning Community

Whose perspectives represent a city’s story? Who gets to shape the public perception and legacy of a city’s communities? Which voices are left out when land, architecture, and public space are changed by the government? In 1824, the odds were stacked against the formation of free black communities in New York City. New York finally abolished slavery in 1827 (one of the last northern states to do so) but free black New Yorkers would still face systemic barriers that made social advancement nearly impossible.  Even after free black men could get jobs and own property here, they were barred from most skill-based trades. They couldn’t vote unless they had over $250 worth of property, which very few did. Black institutions were attacked constantly, and fugitive slaves were vulnerable to capture. Most of New York City’s population was settled downtown.  Meanwhile,…

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December 4, 2019

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